Fostering Empathy Through Understanding: Listening to the Voices of Administrators and Teacher Leaders

Part One: What is the hardest part of your position?

This is the first of a six-part series exploring the relationships between administrators and teacher leaders. Curated by Kristen Engle, Laurie Rigg, and Megan Vosk of the AMLE Teacher Leaders Committee)

Teacher leaders and administrators work closely to ensure that the mission, vision, and values of their schools are consistently implemented. However, conflict and mistrust between both sides can arise as a result of power imbalances and misunderstandings. As part of our work with the AMLE Teacher-Leaders Committee, we conducted a survey in December, 2022 asking AMLE members to share what they thought were the most pressing issues facing teacher-leaders today. Of the responses, the most common issues cited related to conflicts with administrators.

To help bridge the gap between teacher leaders and administrators, as well as build empathy, we thought it would be helpful to ask both groups to answer questions about their roles and responsibilities. We sent six questions to teacher-leaders and administrators in our national and international networks. What follows are the responses that were shared. While they have been edited and condensed for clarity, their substance has not been changed.

This Q&A will be shared in a six-part series and, at the conclusion of the series, will also be published as an easy reference/starting point for discussions between teams. If teacher leadership is of interest to you, please also check out our three part webinar series “Growing Yourself as a Teacher-Leader,” which will be coming this fall.

Part One: Challenges

In this, Part One, of the series we explore the viewpoints of both teacher leaders and administrators in response to the question, “What is the hardest part of your position?” We thought this question would be a great way to start the discussion as it encourages both sides to think more deeply about challenges that the other side faces.

What is the hardest part of your position?”

Teacher Leaders say...Administrators say...
● Listening to colleagues’ issues and concerns without judgment or jumping to solve the problem.
● Voicing/addressing the needs and concerns of others without coming off as complaining (remaining professional).
● Being expected at times to be on multiple committees while also maintaining teaching responsibilities - doing the best at both.
● High expectations to implement new best practices or strategies without adequate planning time or fully understanding the initiatives.
● Sharing instructional ideas/strategies with particular colleagues who are “stuck in their ways” and want to keep teaching the way that they have always taught (fixed vs. growth mindset).
● Teacher leaders may need to work with a variety of stakeholders, including administrators, colleagues, and parents to build consensus around new initiatives or policies. This can be challenging when there are differing opinions and priorities.
● Teacher leaders may be seen as both a colleague and a leader, which can create complex power dynamics. Negotiating these dynamics requires careful communication and relationship-building.
● Teacher leaders often spearhead change initiatives, which can be met with resistance or skepticism from others. Managing change effectively requires strong leadership skills, including communication, problem-solving, and conflict resolution.
● Balancing the needs of individuals with the needs of the whole to ensure empathy and compassion for everyone, including the system
● Showing up fresh for each conversation & interaction, whether planned or unplanned. From a teacher who just lost a father to a teacher who is furious about the copier to a parent with a child in a mental health facility, etc.
● Making decisions that are tough, challenging, and sometimes reflect the best needs for the school. Even though it’s the right call, there are hard feelings.
● Managing personnel issues. When a teacher is not doing a satisfactory job, monitoring a performance plan and holding them accountable takes a great deal of time and energy.
● Being able to take care of the managerial aspects in order to focus on instructional needs.
● Time. Finding time to attend to what should be the most important stuff…teaching and learning. There are so many competing commitments and meetings that often take time away from being present in those moments that should matter the most. Everything is important, but energy and attention towards teaching and learning is the most important and sometimes does not get the attention it deserves.
● Managing parents who have unrealistic expectations.
● The expectation that interpersonal issues will resolve themselves because everyone involved is a “professional” instead of leaders directly addressing the problems and/or the person causing the problems.

What do you think? Did any of the responses resonate with you? Surprise you? Share your thoughts in the comments and stay tuned for Part Two, in which we will dig a little deeper as we discuss the question: “What do you wish people knew about your job?”

Many thanks to all the voices who shared their perspectives with us, especially those from AMLE’s Principals/Assistant Principals and Teacher Leaders committees.

List of contributors:


  • Liz England, Vientiane International School
  • Casey Faulknall, Hong Kong International School
  • Andy Ferguson, Vientiane International School
  • Amy Ganaden, Oakhill Day School
  • Mike Hammond, Oliver W. Winch Middle School, South Glens Falls, NY
  • Ian Hoke, International School Basel
  • Tanay Naik, UNIS Hanoi
  • Tara Waudby, International School Basel

Teacher Leaders:

  • Megan Balduf, Frost Middle School, Fairfax, VA
  • Rachel Booth, Commonwealth Charter Academy, PA
  • Cait Burnup, Franklin Avenue Middle School, Franklin Lakes, NJ
  • Jason DeHart, Wilkes Central High School, Wilkesboro, NC
  • Kristen Engle, Rockwood South Middle School, Fenton, MO
  • Miguel Gomez, Murray State University, Murray, KY
  • Roger Jack, Maple Shade School District, NJ
  • Joseph S. Pizzo, Black River Middle School, Chester, NJ; Centenary University, Hackettstown, NJ
  • Laurie Rigg, Rugby Middle School, Hendersonville, NC
  • Megan Vosk, Vientiane International School, Laos